How Did The Red Carpet Get So...Bad?

The late, great James Laver once said: “Clothes are never a frivolity: they always mean something and that something is, to a large extent, outside the control of our conscious minds.” Well, if Laver were still around today, I think he'd be surprised to see how completely out of control red carpet dressing has become. The meaning is missing; too many looks exist with very few ideas behind them.

We have lost that opportunity to be seduced by an actress and what she wears. Unless someone wears two strips of sequined dental floss and stands on their head, we're rarely moved. And though tons of blood, sweat, and (many, many) tears go into making a grand entrance on the red carpet, it feels as if we have lost the identity of the person actually taking that walk — it's been replaced by branding and marketing. How did we get to this point? I asked a few Hollywood red carpet experts, people who have made a living covering, curating, creating, and featuring these looks, and they all said said more or less the same thing: The red carpet is “tired,” “overdone,” and — the most scathing — ”few stars seem engaged in the clothes they are wearing.” And that's a pity.
Photo: Getty Images.
Photo: Getty Images.
“Everything is so predictable, fake, sponsored, promoted to death, and overdone,” Marisa Fox, a freelance culture writer and filmmaker, tells Refinery29 of the current state of the red carpet. “Where is the novelty? The surprise? The fun? The individuality and personality? It hurts my brain to watch, because I feel my gray matter shrinking.”

The elegance, refinement, and recognizable face that was once associated with the red carpet is now barely there. Sure, maybe a Lanvin jumpsuit pops up on Emma Stone and we all lose our shit or Cate Blanchett wears fringed pink curtains, but I oftentimes find myself becoming BOTH Melissa and Joan Rivers. I can't stop Instagramming, tweeting, and twitching my displeasure and snark on social media seeing the same old boring bugle bead, nude, or pastel illusion dress with a black blazer; a “trying to be Solange" look (It's something obscure and fabulous, but in this case doesn't quite fit the personality of the wearer. They did it because they got the hot designer.); or another velvet-paneled $5,600 lace corset Balmain dress and nude heel by Stuart Weitzman. Everyone ends up looking the same.

The amount of money that goes into these “looks” is unrivaled. There are designers, jewelers, stylists, assistants, security guards, glam squads, drivers, caterers, tailors, and BFFs who get the jets, the hotels, the per diems. But other than demolishing budgets, they aren’t killing it like they should be.

“There are two classes of celebrities right now: The first doesn't want to make mistakes, they want to totally avoid judgement,” Aliza Licht, founder and president of Leave Your Mark LLC and former SVP of global communications for Donna Karan (a.k.a someone who’s taped, cinched, and delivered custom gowns to the stars), says. “The second are ones who want as much attention as they can get. But overall, very few celebrities listen to their stylists. They end up being more like ‘dress waitresses’ than trusted advisors. If you're hiring an expert, listen to an expert, instead of listening to your publicist, mom, boyfriend, assistant, makeup artist, manager, or your doorman.”
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Photo: Getty Images.
Photo: Getty Images.
Another source familiar with this topic (who asked to be anonymous, given their proximity to the industry) digs even deeper: “In my opinion, this is why this shit is boring. Ready? I’m going to say something that no one ever talks about. It’s about the girl’s publicists, which is why no one’s ever written about it.

"Stylists can put together a dope look and then the publicist will go, ‘Ummm, I don’t like it.’ So you’re going to tell the person who dresses pretty much every major celebrity in the world that she should change the shirt? When they’re too involved, it’s like, ‘No black, no this, no that, it’s too risky, it’s too this, its too that,’ and I think all of these guidelines have made everything so blah.

"And then, there’s the designer-brand thing that comes from the publicist. They will go through the rack and ask, ‘Where’s the Gucci? Where’s the Prada?’ etc., because then, they can use this for leverage for invites to fashion shows or to get their clients invited to parties. They’ve hindered the ability of what the stylists can do, which is part of the reason the red carpet has become the way it is. People won’t pick the best dress, but they will pick the best label.”

Blame it on the publicists, branding, professional commitments, or whatever other factor you may, but the ultimate issue with all of this is that the drama, reveal, and magic, is gone.

“I covered the fashion synchronicity of quirky music originals like Missy Elliott, with singular stylists like June Ambrose who worked to create looks that were truly one-of-a-kind,” Fox explains. “Now, it's all for sale immediately, like Ivanka Trump shilling that one-size-fits-all, sweatshop, mass-produced dress she wore at the RNC. Most stars have no personal style and just want to make money through branding. It's all branding. And the few stars who actually have the arrogance to proclaim themselves style avatars, like Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, unveil their clothes as if they were their personal style apotheosis. There’s very little authenticity these days. And the red carpet is no different. Nothing is one-of-a-kind and nothing speaks of one’s signature style.”
Photo: Getty Images.
Photo: Getty Images.
Hal Rubenstein, a founding editor of InStyle, fashion author, expert, and industry veteran, adds an additional element to the equation: “Another reason [the red carpet is the way it is] is because the carpet is manned by people who know nothing about fashion, but gush hysterically like fans.”

And when the serious meaning behind specific outfits is taken away (especially when there may no longer be a meaning to begin with), what’s the point? Is there anywhere to go from here, or will the red carpet continue to be boring?

When it comes to the red carpets in the immediate future (like this weekend’s Emmys), Rubenstein has the final word: “[The red carpet] won’t be a bore, per se, but it will rarely display the flashes of surprise it used to. Today, it’s too aligned with product, instead of personality.”
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